Tag Archives: opinion

On contentment.

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It’s May and that means my birthday is coming up. Mother’s Day is nearby. Hubby Dearest and I are coming up on a biggie, 25 years of legal marriage. All of these dates (except possibly my birthday) are artificial constructs that have little to do with my personal reality. Still, every May I can’t help but reflect on where I am, where I am going, and where I hope to be. This May has been a rather strange one because I feel happy where I am, I feel like I do not need to go anywhere. I have no greater aspirations than to finish the renovations on my little house. I am content. It is a very strange place for me to be in.

My childhood is not something I recall with joy. Mostly it was very difficult and I was “the shit faced brat”. (That is what make Mother’s Day so difficult for me that I won’t let my children celebrate it. We celebrate my birthday instead.) I mostly got picked on and mostly tried to just vanish and avoid being noticed as a child. My twenties were a period of my greatest joy because my babies came. As I loved them and raised them I also poured love on myself and nurtured the child within me by doing so. I also finally gave up on trying to hide who and what my brain was and I started back to school to get prepped for entering university. Finally, I closed off my twenties by leaving the husband who was not right, spent some time in a shelter for battered women, and then restarted my life with a new partner who was right for me. The twenties were a period of intense personal growth and greatest pain and disillusionment with what society had told me I ought to be, as well as being the time of my greatest joy.

My thirties were pretty good. I gave up trying to conform to outside ideas about who I should be. I started university. Growing up I recall my mother saying “You have to learn to hide those brains of yours. Men don’t like women who are too smart.” The only meaning and purpose to life for a girl was catching a man and then spend the rest of her tending to him and his children. I stopped listening to her and I stopped doing that. No more having the feet knocked out from under me every time I tried to stand up. I recently bought and I am now watching the entire collection of “The Waltons” TV series. As a teenager I loved that show. My aspiration was to be an Olivia Walton and marry a John Walton. I wanted to love and be loved and have a home. In my thirties I finally stopped lying to myself and instead I was busy cramming my brain full of stuff like biochemistry of nucleic acids and statistical analysis of genetic variants. Honestly, that was far better suited for my brain than the life of an Olivia Walton. I still occasionally wished I could have been an Olivia Walton. It certainly would have been easier and if I had married a John Walton I might still be in that place. But in my thirties I gave up on trying to be what I am not.

My forties were a time of change and growth. I completed my PhD. I am very proud of that document and yet it is a source of pain to me. On the one hand it is quite an accomplishment. On the other, the realities of academia came up and smacked me in the face. While you are a student there is always room for you, mainly because as a student you are expected to put in very long hours for very low pay. Plus you have a lot of latitude to make stupid mistakes and I did make a few. One you have that PhD though everything changes. The next step is a postdoc and I did a three year one on a full scholarship. The problem is postdocs live in a nether world. They are not students, they are not staff. They have no rights. I was told if I was not in before my supervisor every day, and if I was not staying past midnight at least twice a week I was “not hungry enough”. In academia only 0.02% of new PhDs get the magic “assistant professorship” that is the key step to success in the tenure track. Because the competition is so tight, and because the entire system runs on who you know, and where you fit in, not what you are, it’s very easy to get end up in 99.8% who get shoved off the ladder. When you are in it, you never think it might happen to you. And so you have three choices when reality hits, admit the whole PhD thing is a dead end and give up the dream, live forever as a postdoc, or become a “research assistant” whose entire existence is going from grant to grant of your supervisor, often working as hard as your supervisor, and getting little credit or recognition, facing being discarded the first time the grant committee changes and decides you are expendable, all for less pay than the lab janitor. Still I had awards, I had publications and I felt I was hot and ready to make it.

Reality bites and the simple fact of the matter is that in my fifties I decided to give up. I still had teenagers at home who needed a mother, a husband who loved me as much as John loved Olivia. If I stay after midnight instead of taking a break in lab work to go home and eat and sleep, I end up making stupid errors because I am tired. I end up having to throw out reagents worth more in a single experiment than I was earning in a month. Post doc’ing was not for me. I am not hungry enough to put with that kind of abuse.

I didn’t give up all at once. I am stubborn. I needed to smash my head a few times on that glass ceiling. I would submit my CV for a job, get the telephone call, get the interview. They loved my skill set, they couldn’t wait to meet me, they talked about all kinds of things like my potential for start up grants, and it was going to be great! They were so looking forward to having me on the team. Then when I walked into the room, faces would fall. They would squirm in their seat, act all polite and uncomfortable and I would never hear from them again. You aren’t supposed to discriminate against people based on age but it happens all the time. The kindest thing anyone ever did for me in academia was when a successful professor I admired listened to me complain about the peculiarity of being so positively received right up until the interview. Even the expensive power suit I bought didn’t help. I just didn’t get it.

“No one is going to hire a 47 year old who just got her PhD into a tenure track position,” he so very bluntly said. “They will have all kinds of politically acceptable excuses for discriminating against you. They will blame the grant agencies, they will blame the system, they will quote the studies that show people are most productive in their life when they have that PhD by age 26. They will rationalize away their bigotry. I have sat in on many hiring committees. The fact is no one is ever going to hire you because you are both female and too old.” The fact that potential jobs always started out very encouraging, and then their faces would crumble just looking at me for the first time, told me my honest friend was right. (Note to aspiring women scientists: Forget the PhD unless you can finish it before you turn 26 and go get a professional degree like engineering, nursing, medicine instead and then go into research. You’ll always have protection of your profession and a fall back to lean on between grants.)

Just as I was facing this, my husband hit another academic wall, the “You are too old and it’s time to retire” one. I knew I would never make it in and he was forced out. So I decided I would retire with him. He’s 16 years older than me and it seemed far more important to be with him during his retirement while he was still young enough to enjoy it rather than take more dead end post docs where I got paid less than the woman sweeping the lab floor. And so my fifties found me “retired” without a pension or pay, dependant on my husband’s income to live. Dependant on a man was a place I never thought I allow myself to be in again but here I am. Since then I have taken a few short term jobs but only ones I was interested in and that I wanted to do. And they all paid much better than a postdoc.

The teenagers grew up and didn’t need us so much. I have been blessed with a good life, mostly good enough health, three wonderful children and a wonderful step son. I have three lovely daughters-in-law who treat me very nicely and respectfully. The kids all turned out very well. All of them tax payers, self supporting, not one in prison, and all doing well at what they are doing. We had freedom and so we decided to “follow the dream”. We spent five wonderful years living full time in our travel trailer. It has been great! We got to every state in the lower 48 and we have been blessed to see and do things most people never get to do. I wouldn’t give that up for a second. Still, after five years of arriving in winter and leaving in winter in a poorly insulated travel trailer, the rambling life got wearing and we needed a home base. So when the chance came up to purchase a little house with a big driveway for the trailer in lovely little town we jumped at it. So now we are part time full timers and part time stick house people.

The little house was well built and solid as they come and I love it. It had nothing wrong with it except for cosmetic things. And if I ever say that again I hope someone kicks me hard. However as I close in on 58 we have almost finished all that cosmetic work. The place has new windows, fresh paint, new flooring and it feels very much like our home. One room to go for the paint and two rooms for the flooring. One very nice thing that happened was hubby dearest and I wrote the book about our mutual research. We figured out differentiation and we’re right and we’re proud of it and it’s all in that book. Plus the royalties thus far paid for the new flooring in our little house.

Watching The Waltons I find myself reflecting on my life and how much it is like Olivia Walton’s now. I bake. I garden. I cook. I fix up my little house. Small town life is as slow and easy as Walton’s Mountain except that I look at Riding Mountain. Unlike Olivia Walton, I have Google Scholar and Facebook and Pubmed meaning the world is as close as my computer. I indulge my mind a few times a day. My husband spends his days deeply immersed in astrobiology. As a young man he had to choose biology or astronomy and he pursued biology because that interested him more. These days, astrobiology couldn’t be more perfect for a theoretical biologist with no lab. Our house is filled with the sounds of NASA on line conferences instead of depression era radio shows. We are both free of grant deadlines, university politics, and hiring committee meetings.

Yesterday I spent my day repotting seedling tomatoes, planning the menu for our Silver Anniversary, cutting new trim to fit over the new flooring, chatting with a neighbour, watching flocks of juncos and pine siskin feast at my bird feeders, doing a literature review on tick bourn diseases, chatting with a young woman on line about her pregnancy (which is going just fine) and debating the relative merits of pipelines versus tanker transport of crude oil. The strangest thing of all for me as I contemplate my birthday is this wonderful slow growing sensation of contentment. Back in the days, I used to watch one soap opera daily so I would have something to chat about at the Tuesday morning bible study for young mothers. (I could never discuss the stuff from the nonfiction section of the public library that I was secretly devouring hence the one soap a day.) When characters said they were happy, they were no longer interesting and they either vanished or were due for a cancer diagnosis or a terrible car crash, a kidnapping or a bad case of amnesia. But life isn’t a soap opera and so I will say it. I am content. I am happy. I have never been in this place before and I am enjoying it.

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Not My President! Except he is.

I really hesitated to publish this blog. I am not American. I did not vote in the election. My husband is American. I have all kinds of friends and in-laws all over America. I have been deeply hurt by the divisive, angry, rhetoric that has been tearing apart a great nation. Now that the election is over, I think it is time for reasonable people to stop and think and work for some kind of national unity and healing after one of the most bitter elections I have ever seen. That is why I decided to write this blog.

I have had three American relatives, close relatives, cut us off completely this election cycle! I also had more than three friends cut me off. They decided that Trump is racist, sexist, antiSemitic, and a hate monger, and he is so foul a person that not only is he unfit to be president, but anyone who voted from him (even a friend or family member!) is unfit to call themselves a fellow human being. One close relative told my husband he should move to Alabama and join David Duke and the KKK because he belongs there. That is the last message we heard from her. Such a fine demonstration of progressive tolerance and open mindedness. If it were a one off I think I could dismiss it as ‘she is crazy’. But it happened to us several times.

It used to be the one could hold differing opinions and still have a reasoned discussion when it came to politics, or at least that is how I remember it. It used to be that one could respect the democratic process and agree to disagree. Remember debating in high school where we all shook hands and walked out for lunch together? This time, it seems like the hate and anger is so strong that there is no room for any disagreement.

Both sides in this have been awful. There have been all kinds of vicious rumours from the right on the internet alleging things like Hilary was part of a pedophile ring. As disgusting as these hits on Hilary were it seemed to me that the left was far more likely degenerate into name calling and closed minded cutting off of any opinion that didn’t fit the preset mould, and even outright violent oppression. It was not Trump supporters that beat people up, smashed cars, punched old ladies in the face, and tore down signs and intimidated people. Wikileaks and Project Veritas showed those were Hilary supporters, many on the Democratic payroll.

I also did not have any Republican family cut us out of their life even if I called them on the unsubstantiated pedophile story. I think this is because there is a tradition on the right that everyone has a right to free speech and I might 100% disagree with you but I will die fighting for your right to say what you want. There are no safe spaces in the right. It is the left that promulgates the idea that any speech which offends or upsets others should be silenced, not tolerated, and silenced by force if necessary. So when I defended Hilary, those on the right would generally call me names, laugh at me or present counter evidence. When I defended Trump in any way shape or form, the response from those I knew on the left was to label me with a tag, usually “racist”, and all further contact and discussion ended, often with me being blocked if the contact happened to be via social media. Most of my Republican supporting family members also reported being afraid to voice their opinions and afraid to put up signs on their lawn for Trump and afraid to let people at work know their opinion because of their fear of the severity of the backlash against them. Their fear included acts of violence. Not one Hilary supporting Democrat in my circle has said anything about feeling fearful about merely voicing their opinion because of intimidation or violence from friends or family. Not one.

I am a middle sort of person. I do agree with free speech and I don’t agree with safe spaces. I think government is too large and many government policies encourage dependancy and laziness. There should be consequences for making choices like living in an urban ghetto, breaking the law, taking drugs or not working. Yet, I also think gays should be able to marry and to live free from discrimination. I also think the government should not interfere with a woman’s body and a choice about pregnancy should be between a woman and her doctor and their respective consciences because while abortion is the death of an unborn human, it is also not a black and white issue but has multiple shades of grey that the government certainly can’t handle. I think health care is a right not a privilege. I am, in fact, neither right nor left. So it is really shocking to me to find myself labeled a racist, hate monger, antiSemitic, sexist and being told that I am the one full of hate and being cut off and blocked for simply saying what I think, especially when it is family doing it to me. You really hurt my feelings when you did that. Shame on you.

I do think the mainstream media, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, to a lesser degree MSNBC and NBC and even FOX were extremely biased against Trump. I listened to many of Trump’s speeches in their entirety and I was constantly astonished at the degree of distortion the media spun on it. I heard the first infamous Muslim speech and I was stunned when it became Trump saying banning all Muslims forever. Did CNN and WaPo and NYT hear the same speech I did? I was also shocked how Trump spoke out against illegal immigrants who come to America to commit crimes and then the media suddenly began claiming he was talking about all immigrants all the time. I was shocked when some members of the KKK came out in favour of Trump but he disavowed them but they are STILL talking about that. Yet another KKK group in California came out in favour of Hilary and that never even made the news. I was stunned when a crude locker room conversation about what woman let you do if you are rich (the operative word being “let”, as in “consent”) suddenly morphed in people seriously stating that Trump was a rapist! I happen to think Trump is a boor, crude, difficult and arrogant, and probably a bully, but he is not a racist, nor is he sexist or a hate filled person and he certainly isn’t a rapist. Democrats calling Trump a rapist was especially hypocritical in my eyes when looking at the man who would have joined Hilary in the White House if she had won. And calling Trump an antiSemite? Come on! The man has more Jewish grandchildren than most Jewish American Democrats do. This was the guy who got Blacks and Jews admitted into exclusive Florida clubs they were banned from, who rode at the front of a parade supporting Israel when no one else would, and who has awards from the NAACP and other community organizations for his good works. If my only news source or knowledge of Trump had been via the sources like Washington Post, I too would likely be living in shocked horror at the idea this evil man had been elected. I just don’t think he is so evil based on what I heard come out his mouth (in its entirety, in context) and what I read about the man outside of what the mainstream media had to say.

I also made a point of reading the Wikileak’s Podesta collection. It was a lot of slogging through a lot of unimportant detail but it did prove to my satisfaction two things about Hilary Clinton. I am convinced she lied about the email server both in her intent for having it and the content of what went through the server. Comey may have been right that there was not enough to justify charging her but there was, in my opinion, more than enough to make me decide she was a liar and therefore unfit to be president. I do not accept “All politicians lie” as an acceptable defense. I also think the Podesta collection of emails showed enough about pay to play for me to decide she is probably also corrupt. And I have no doubt whatsoever that her rapist husband is a far worse sex pervert than any “she let me do some pussy grabbing” Trump may have been guilty of. That is my opinion. I am allowed to have an opinion even if you don’t like it.

Given a choice between the two, Trump, imperfect as he is, was the lesser of two evils. If I had a vote to cast, which I did not, I would have cast it for Trump. There is even  a possibility he might be good for America. And now, like it or not, recounts notwithstanding, popular vote versus electoral college, enough people in the USA voted for Trump that he is going to be president. President Donald J Trump will be President of the United States of America, duly elected by the rules of the American’s Republic. Get over it! Adapt!

So now what?

I really think it is time for the Trump haters in the USA to stop their incredulous fussing and start dealing with the reality of President Trump. Remember all that stuff Hilary said about how the election process is the bedrock of your democracy and we must all abide by the outcome? Even if she said it when she thought she was clearly going to win and she was directing it at Trump and his supporters, it was true then and it is still true today. If you are both horrified about President Trump and a reasonable person (and the unreasonable ones would have long since stopped reading and blocked me by now anyway) then you owe it to yourself and to your country to try to understand just why people voted for him or chose not to vote for Hilary Clinton.

Even if you disagree with their reasons, you really need to get past simply slapping on the label of sexist, racist, white, male, middle aged, blue collar worker, and walking away from us. I assure you, there just aren’t that many sexist, racist, white, male, middle aged, blue collar workers with no education in the USA to explain the Trump win. And Trump did win. I am sorry if you are living in a bewildered state of disbelief and horror. I am sorry you are worried about how the country to going to hell in a hand basket, and racism and sexism, and antiSemiticism, and hate have just become mainstream and how Trump is going to get mad at someone and push the button and blow us all to Kingdom come. I am merely asking you to consider that maybe, just maybe, you might be wrong about Trump. Maybe, just maybe, you were fed bad information and maybe just maybe, there is something about the man worth respecting. Even if you can’t find it in you to respect Trump the man, at least find enough respect for the office of President of the United States that you can stop hating half you countrymen for voting for the man and respect President Trump.

And if you are one of those Hilary supporters who cut off a friend or relative like their opinions were nothing more a bunch of offensive infectious filth you are better off without, I ask you to please reconsider. Consider apologizing to them for the incredibly horrible things you said to them when you called them racist, sexist, antiSemitic and hate filled ignoramuses. Even if you can’t bring yourself to apologize to them for being a cruel ass, at least call them back and say “Okay, Trump won but we are still in this together. It’s time to move along and be a family or friend again.” And if your Republican friend or family member tells you to take your racist, sexist, antiSemitic, hateful labelling of them and go jump out off the nearest Trump Tower with it, at least any ongoing hatred won’t be your fault anymore.

I miss you. In spite of how horrible you made me feel, in spite of the foul names you called me, I miss you. Can we start again please?